SIX Query Letter Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

By Gloria G. Adams 

It’s that time. You’ve written (and revised and rewritten and polished) your manuscript. Now it’s ready to send out to an editor at a publishing house. You’ve researched the publishing houses and found several editors who are open to submissions for your kind of manuscript. 

Now you have to draft that all-important query letter. To make sure it’s an effective letter, make sure you avoid the mistakes made in the following query:

Hey, Tina! #1

Did you ever wonder what it might be like to win the world’s biggest burp contest? That’s exactly what happens to my main character, Freddie Finkle, in my book, The Biggest Burp Contest. Things get really crazy for Freddie after he wins, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what happens. #2

It’s a picture book for kids in elementary school and it has about 2,000 words. Well, okay, it’s a little closer to 3,000. #3

My cousin, who was an art teacher before he got arrested, was going to draw the pictures for me, but I didn’t want to wait ‘til he got out, so I drew all the pictures for you myself. #4

I read it to my nieces and nephews at Christmas, and they laughed and laughed. This book is so good, I’m sure there just aren’t any other books out there like it.  #5

I’ve worked as a bounty hunter, a circus clown, a lighthouse keeper, and a horse whisperer. I haven’t written anything else yet, but as soon as I save up enough money, I’m going to join one of those writer’s organizations. #6

I feel that my manuscript is a good fit for Kids & Books Publishers, and I thank you for your time and consideration of The Biggest Burp Contest.


Carl Clueless

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but here are the right things to do:

#1. Make sure that you address your letter to the specific name of the person if it’s available. Your salutation should read, “Dear Ms. Smith” or “Dear Mr. Jones.” Make sure to spell the editor’s name correctly.
Always follow the submission guidelines, usually found on the publisher’s website or in directories like the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.

#2. Your pitch should tell enough about the book to “hook” your editor, but not tell the whole story in detail. If it’s fiction, briefly mention plot and conflict and why your readers will care about what happens to your main character. Some agents might request a complete synopsis, but generally, this should only be one, or at the most, two paragraphs.
One place to find examples of well-written pitches is on the front book jacket flaps of published books.
Also, never tell an editor to “read it for yourself.”

#3. Know the appropriate target audience. Learn the age/grade level, word count, and, if appropriate, genre, before you submit your manuscript. Here’s an excellent site from author Jenny Bowman that explains each of the levels:

#4: Only submit the text if you are submitting a picture book. Never include illustrations unless you are a professional illustrator and are submitting as an “author/illustrator.”

#5. Research what other books might be published that are similar to yours and tell why yours is different or what niche markets might be a good fit. Would it be a great addition to the gift shops at zoos or national parks? Will it make a strong resource for a school curriculum?
Never tell editors that your family loved the book, or your mom thinks it has great potential.

#6. Your bio should include education or jobs that might be related to writing, or an occupation that gave you the expertise to write this particular book. List your published works and any professional writing organizations to which you currently belong. Do you do any writing as part of your job? Write a newsletter for a volunteer organization to which you belong? Look for opportunities to increase published credits; write a blog, enter contests, submit stories or articles to magazines, etc.

A few things to check before you send your submission:   
  • Double check all your spelling and punctuation.
  • Make sure you’ve followed your publisher’s guidelines.
  • Research comparable titles.
  • Tell the editor if this is a simultaneous submission.
  • Include your contact information below your name.
  • Send a test email to yourself or a friend prior to sending to an editor/agent just to be sure the formatting came out the way you wanted it to, and the attachment will open correctly.
  • If an editor only takes snail mail submissions, follow the publishing house guidelines for how to submit. Best practice is to keep it to one sheet, single spaced, font size 12, using Times New Roman.

Check out some examples of successful query letters:

Interview with author Tammi Sauer

By Gloria Reichert

Last September, when I attended the SCBWI: Ohio North Conference, I had the honor of being a hostess to children’s book author Tammi Sauer. Getting to know her was a delightful experience!  Both her energetic intensive and closing address provided a bounty of helpful information to help writers improve their manuscripts. We welcome Tammi to the Song of Six Pens blog and thank her for sharing her thoughts.    

1. What inspired you to write your first book?

One night, after my husband and I had tucked our kids in bed, we heard an unexpected knock at the door. I opened it and discovered a kid standing on my front porch. He was selling newspaper subscriptions in an effort to raise money to go to…Cowboy Camp. I looked at this kid with his everywhere hair, thick glasses, and un-cowboy-like everything and knew I had a story.

Cowboy Camp, illustrated by Mike Reed, debuted in 2005, and it's still in print. Yeehaw.

2. Are there any children’s book authors who have influenced you?

Many authors have influenced me! I think the first book that I read that really made me want to become a children's book author is Jules Feiffer's Bark, George! The book is so funny, and it offers the unexpected. Plus, it's a joy to read aloud.

3. What kinds of books do you like to read?

My favorite picture books are filled with humor and heart.

4. Does one of your main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, which one? Why?

Each of my main characters holds a special place in my heart, but Mary from Mary Had a Little Glam is extra special to me because, over the years, so many moms have reached out to me and shared stories and pictures of how their daughters have really found a connection with Mary.

I have two new Mary books coming out with Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Mary Had a Little Plan debuts in the fall of 2021, and Mary Had a Little Jam comes out in the fall of 2022.

5. What was one of the most surprising things you learned while creating your books?

Oh, I am a revision nerd! Getting a manuscript juuuuust riiiiiiight is my favorite part of the process. It feels like a game to me. I strive to use only the best words. I remind myself to tell as much as possible in as little as possible. Reading my manuscript aloud is another must—it helps to ensure that the rhythm is there. I also step away from my manuscript and grab lunch or run an errand. Getting away from it for an hour or so helps me to return refreshed. OH. The revision process ALWAYS involves tea. I am currently hooked on Pie Five Pizza's peach ginger tea. I buy it--and pretty much drink it--by the gallon.

6. What is your writing process? (Outline, start in the middle, scenes, etc.)

Process? Ha! I really don't have a specific process. Each book is different. I simply write the best story I can and hope for good.

7. What was your most unusual/funny/heartwarming experience as a writer?
I really get the best fan mail. This is one of my all time favorites (I did not correct the spelling):

Dear Ms. Sauer,
Your the best. Your my hero and roll modle.
My dream is to write a book.
Do not tell her this but I like you more than Kelly Clarkson.
Elizabeth Cloe

8. What is one piece of advice that you would give to writers?
My best advice comes from a quote I once read in a Cynsations blog post. This quote shares just about everything that needs to go into creating a successful picture book manuscript. 
My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”—Lynn E. Hazen.

Short and Sweet:

·     * Pantser or Plotter? Typically, I know the beginning and the end and pants my way through the middle.
       * Guilty Food Pleasure? There are so many! My newest Guilty Food Pleasure is Dot's Homestyle Pretzels. They aren't sold everywhere. The other day, I drove seven miles just to get a new bag.
       * Favorite Hobby? Reading!
       * Dog or Cat person? DOG
      * Whom would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? I'd love to be able to have one more dinner with my parents and siblings.
      * Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Oh, man. I am having a hard time giving short and sweet answers! My muse doesn't follow any kind of schedule. She's rather ridiculous. Occasionally, my best work happens at 3 am.

Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is a full-time children's book author who presents at schools and conferences across the country. Getting kids excited about reading and writing is Tammi's passion.

In addition to winning awards and garnering starred reviews, Tammi's books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical that toured the nation. To date, the show has been performed more than 150 times and will tour again in 2021. Wordy Birdy was named a Spring Kids' Indie Next pick, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month. Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and French, which makes her feel extra fancy. To learn more about Tammi and her many books, visit her website at and find her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.